Saturday, October 8, 2016

Chasing Waterfalls

With fall in full swing it’s the perfect time for cocktails and puzzle boxes.  I know, I know - when isn’t it a good time for cocktails and puzzle boxes, right? The flavors of fall are evocative of the season and work so well in cocktails and spirits, too.  For this particular fall cocktail we’ll use a crisp, fine pear brandy.  But first we need to back up, all the way to 17th century France, where an Alsatian monk may or may not have (as with all great cocktail lore) fermented some mashed up cherries to create a restorative and curative elixir which he called “eau de vie”, French for “water of life”.  Eau de vie are clear distilled fruit brandies, unaged and bursting with the intense essential flavor from which they are derived.  Very different from fruit liqueurs, which are sweet and satisfying in their own right, eau de vie are dry and highly aromatic.  Technically, any distilled spirit is an eau de vie.  For example, Scotch, which is distilled from malted barley, derives the name “whisky” from a Gaelic word meaning “water of life”.  But typically eau de vie refers to the clear fruit brandies, and there are plenty of great fall options.  As mentioned I selected a perfect pear brandy eau de vie, which we can consider a “water of fall”.

The 83 Move Waterfall Box by Kagen Sound

Coincidentally, I know just the box to pair with this pear.  Considered by many to be a master of the art, Kagen Sound (nee Schaeffer) crafts his artisanal puzzle boxes in Colorado using his mathematical mindset and wood working techniques usually reserved for fine musical instruments.  One of his modern masterpieces is his “Waterfall” box set.  This series of 5 puzzle boxes are beautifully rendered from walnut and feature decorative inlay ribbons of wenge and maple which run around the boxes in various intentional patterns.  The series builds with the first four from the “7” move box to the “15”, “19” and “42” move boxes.  Add these together (7+15+19+42) and you have the final installment, the “83” Move Waterfall Box. 

Tiny inlay clues map each side. Notice how the ribbons don't line up ... yet.

On the first four boxes, the dark wood inlay ribbon runs around the boxes in a serpentine, irregular fashion.  This is a clue as to how the panels need to move in order to open the box.  Unlike traditional Japanese puzzle boxes, which typically have 4 sliding side panels that move in fairly predictable ways, the Waterfall box panels move on all sides, and in multiple directions.  The ribbon clues are helpful but only just get you started.  As the number of moves goes up, the ribbon becomes less and less helpful.  On the 83 move box, the ribbons wrap all around on all sides like a well tied up present, and each side panel has a little clue in the center. Unique to this final box in the series, these little inlaid clues are a map to the movement of each individual panel.  Another clever design feature is that when the box is closed, the ribbons wrapping it do not line up – but when the box is solved, they do.  And the piece de résistance reveals serious pre-planning, considering that these boxes were created over a five year period: if the first four boxes in the series are stacked together in the proper way, they form a new ribbon which reveals the initial opening sequence  for the final box.  Viola!

The Waterfall cocktail

I suppose I should create a meta cocktail to compliment the Waterfall Box, building four separate drinks which share some common theme and a fifth which takes elements from the first four and adds even more.  I guess I’m not as ambitious as Kagen Sound.  My “Waterfall” cocktail will have to do.  Based off the “water of fall” pear brandy, it adds fresh lemon juice, maple syrup (for that eau so autumn sweetness) and fresh apple cider via a muddled crisp apple.  This eau de vie brings the joie de vivre.  It’s a modest homage to this amazing masterpiece, and a lovely treat you’re sure to “fall” for.  Cheers!

These pear eau so well

The Waterfall

2 oz  Pear Eau de Vie
¾ oz fresh lemon juice
½ oz maple syrup (Grade B preferred)
¼ seasonal apple, cubed with skin and core
Dash of black walnut bitters

In a mixing tin, muddle the apple and maple syrup.  Add the remaining ingredients, shake with ice and double strain into a favorite glass. 

For more about Kagen Sound:

For prior Kagen Sound puzzle boxes:


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